Podcast transcript, Mosen at large episode 209, Aira to increase prices and make free offers less generous, Mastodon adoption increases rapidly, and be sure to vote for your top 10 holiday songs
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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. This is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. This week, big changes at Aira with free offers now as generous and price increases on the way. Mastodon continues to thrive. Time’s running out to cast your vote for your top 10 holiday songs.
Mosen At Large podcast.
Mosen at Large taking a summer break
Jonathan: Whew. We made it to December. We made it. I hope you’ve got all the holiday tunes out that you’re thinking about decorating your tree. It’s a marvelous thing, isn’t it? Hopefully getting ready to take a break. This is something that we love to do in this part of the world because of course it’s summer. The weather should be getting better. There’ll be cricket on the radio and not much to do except spend time with family and friends and enjoy oneself. Mosen At Large is getting into that mode very soon. If you’ve been listening to my radio and podcast projects over the years, and there’ve been many years now, you will know that I like to take my summer break and really switch off. I keep a pretty frenetic schedule for 11 months of the year.
This 12th month, I really have some downtime. It helps me to be focused and full of new ideas and energy for the other 11 months. What tends to happen is that for the first two or three weeks I do nothing but veg out really. Read a lot, listen to a lot of cricket, and then eventually my curious mind comes back. I normally learn something new or do something different or spend some quality time upscaling Mushroom FM in some meaningful way or something like that. I come out of hibernation gradually.
For Mosen At Large, this means that the final episode for 2022 will be released New Zealand time on Sunday morning, the 18th of December. We will be taking a nice long break and the first Mosen At Large episode for 2023 will be on the 29th of January. Then we’ll be back into the weekly cadence like we tend to be for the rest of the year. Just repeating that, last episode for the year on the 18th, new Zealand time. We’re back again in January on the 29th.
Like totally like welcome California
Now, this is episode 209 of Mosen At Large. Bodacious, dude. I totally like bodacious. The reason why I tell you this is because area code 209 is California-related. There are a lot of area codes in California, because there are a lot of telephones in California, because there are a lot of people in California and a lot of those people are in the tech industry and so they might have a lot of devices. Let’s just ask the drinker about area code 209. Soup drinker. Tell me about area code 209.
Soup drinker: Area codes 209 and 350 are telephone area codes in the North American numbering plan for the US state of California.
Soup drinker: Their service area includes Stockton, Modesto, Turlock, Merced, Winton, Atwater, Livingston, Manteca, Ripon, Tracy, Lodi, Galt, Sonora, Los Banos, San Andreas, Mariposa and Yosemite. The Northern San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Foothills.
Jonathan: Yes. You see that’s why people call from San Andreas and they say, “My phone has developed a fault, you see.” [laughs] Welcome to you in area code 209 in the sunny state of California where you can get extremely nice grapes and oranges. Although the Floridians would argue that the oranges from there are better. I shall not get into that because I love my listeners equally.
Have you voted in the holiday countdown yet?
I particularly love my listeners who have taken the time to send in their top 10 holiday songs to contribute to the top 100, which we will play as part of our Christmas party and countdown taking place this year on a Saturday on Mushroom FM. That’s the Saturday before Christmas, the 17th of December.
Now, we have to collate the votes. We have to run the algorithm. We have to do all the magic. You’ve only got until the 15th, late in the evening of the 15th of December to get your votes in. I know how it is, you see. Things get hectic at holiday time. There are parties to go to, presents to think about, the voluptuous food that you’re going to be consuming. There’s so much to do. Why not pause this podcast and head on over now to mushroomfm.com/countdown2022. That’s mushroomfm.com/countdown2022. It’s a super accessible process. You can type in the songs if you want or you can scroll through our humongenormous collection of songs and choose your top 10. That way, whatever works for you is just peachy, peachy.
Now, as well as the countdown, we have this fun social media gathering. This year, it is taking place on Mastodon. You don’t have to be a part of that if you want. If you just want to settle back and enjoy the music, that’s totally fine. The more votes we get, the more representative a sample we get of what people are liking at the moment. I want to use this little pulpit, what did Petra call it once? The bully pulpit, I think she said. “You’ve got the bully pulpit,” said Petra once.
Anyway, I want to use this bully pulpit to do a bit of advocacy because I came across a truly amazing Christmas song and I’d love to see it get into at least the top 20 because I’m playing the top 20 at the end, you see and I’d love to be able to play this song. As I record this, I have to say it is not exactly rocketing up the charts. I couldn’t say that really at all. It’s not. I’m very disappointed by this. I like to think it’s because not too many people have heard of it yet. You may or may not recall that Taylor Swift released a song in 2019 called Christmas Tree Farm. I’m certainly very aware of this because my youngest daughter is a major Taylor Swift fan.
When my kids started coming along, I decided that I would do my best to keep up with the music that they were listening to. I didn’t become a remote out of touch father who kind of made disparaging noises about their musical choices. Only trouble is gee whiz, most of the kids are into the stuff that I’m into, so it hasn’t worked out the whole way I thought. They came to me for musical influence. My youngest daughter, Nicola, is a major Taylor Swift fan. We spent some quality time with the Taylor Swift Waxwork at the Madame Tussauds Museum when we were in London. Whenever Taylor Swift comes out with something new like the Midnight album that came out not so long ago, I listen to it. Nicola and I talk about the tracks. We bond over the Taylor Swift.
It’s not often that I get to tell her anything about Taylor Swift that she isn’t already well aware of. However, I struck gold, gold with this one because I found out that Taylor Swift last year, in a very limited release that was only available on Amazon, released what she called the old-timey version of Christmas Tree Farm. This was recorded in the legendary Abbey Road Studios. Yes, the very room, the very room where the Beattles were recording all those years ago. She had a full orchestra there. Because if you know the original Christmas Tree Farm that came out three years ago, it starts off with orchestral accompaniment. Then it gets poppy and bouncy. It’s a good song.
This Christmas Tree Farm old-timey version is purely orchestral and it’s swingy. I think it is a standard. I do. One should use that term standard sparingly, but I do think that she’s really cracked it with this old tiny version of Christmas Tree Farm. What you have to do, if you want to hear this is go to your streaming music service or you can go over to the tube of you. I found it on the tube of you and you type Christmas Tree Farm old tiny version and it will come up there from Taylor Swift and have a listen to it. If you’ve been listening to the Mosen explosion on Mushroom FM, I’ve been playing it there. I think it is a fantastic Christmas song. I hope you do too and that if you listen to it, and you think it’s good, you might include it in your top 10. Yes.
Mushroomfm.com/countdown2022 is where you go to cast your vote. mushroomfm.com/countdown2022. We’re going to have fun. We always do. People love the atmosphere of these holiday countdowns. We would love to get your votes and to have you a part of this amazing thing. By the way, I would play Christmas Tree Farm old-timey version, but we are not licensed to play full recordings and Taylor would ping me. I could say to her, “Taylor, you need to calm down. It’s Christmas time as you know all too well. Still, I knew you were trouble as soon as I got your email.” If I were fearless, I would play it. I would just play it, but I am not. You’ll have to seek it out for yourself.
We bring you transcripts of every episode of Mosen At Large. That’s possible thanks to sponsorship from Pneuma Solutions. One of the cool things about the internet is that it connects us with the wider world. Another cool thing about the internet, is that it can create places just for us. Mosen At Large is one such place. Another one is Sero. Sero is spelled S-E-R-O, is a social network designed by us for us. Sero is available everywhere. It’s on your smartphone, your Apple TV, your Amazon Echo, and of course on a fully accessible website.
If you download the Sero mobile app from wherever you get your apps for your mobile device, you’ll be able to sample some of the content free. That includes this podcast and Mushroom FM but paying a subscription to Sero gives you access to a treasure trove of information, including newspapers, forums where blind and no vision people can discuss a wide range of issues, a handy accessible email client and so much more. You have to check out all the features. You’ll be amazed at how much is there. Go to pneumasolutions.com. That’s P-N-E-U-M-A solutions.com. Access the products link and then choose Sero for more information.
Jonathan Mosen, Mosen At Large podcast.
Troy Otillio and Jenine Stanley from Aira
Jonathan: Most listeners will already be familiar with Aira. The service is offering professionally trained agents, providing sighted assistance on demand. Users pay by the minute or they take advantage of locations and services where the minutes are paid for. It’s been four years since the last significant revamp of Aira’s pricing plans. I actually remember it very well. Aira is in the process of making some changes to those plans, retiring plans that have been around since the last changes in 2018, giving users a limited time to lock in the current plans and there are other changes as well. Plenty to talk about. To do that, I’m joined once again by Troy Otillio, who’s Aira’s Chief Executive, and also Jenine Stanley, who’s Director of Customer Communications. Welcome to you both. Good to have you back on the show.
Jenine Stanley: Hi, Jonathan. Great to be here.
Troy Otillio: Thanks, Jonathan. It’s great to be here and thanks for having us. To everyone listening, thanks for being an Aira because I’m assuming you’re listening because you happen to be an Aira subscriber or even a guest and I always thank you for investing in our service so we can make it better.
Jonathan: Where to begin with this, why are changes necessary right now?
Troy: I took over in 2020 as I think some people know and the mindset was moving from a company that was funded heavily from what we call in the states here in the United States and probably elsewhere, venture capital. That’s where investors come in and they invest and they pay it forward. In the case of Aira, we raised $38 million. We’re very proud of that. In 2020 that funding ended which meant Aira had a choice to continue to provide the service we had to restructure for sustainability. My commitment and the commitment of my staff has been and always will be to create a service that fulfills people’s needs while remaining sustainable.
We don’t have to face a situation where we have to make drastic changes or look at closing out the company. We did restructure and we did find our way to where we are today where Aira is a strong and growing concern. I think what’s happened is some of the fundamentals of the business and the usage have change now to where we need to adjust to keep and remain sustainable. We can talk in more greater detail.
Basically, we’re looking to do this not overnight. That’s why we announced that we’ll be making some changes because we know that people need time to plan. That’s why we’re getting out the news earlier. That’s why we’re not waiting until January to just all wake up one day and have people read, ”Hey, there’s new plans and you need to make decisions.” We’re saying today that we will be unveiling new plans in January and we are saying today that we’re adjusting our investment. We internally call Aira free but those are programs and use cases that Aira funds with its own dollars.
It’s a lot of economics that are driving this, but the economics are strongly influenced by the state of the economy. Whether you look at unemployment or inflation, there’s the rising cost of wages. There’s a lot of factors that mean that we have to take a forward-looking view and ensure that we operate in a sound fiscal process. Jenine, what else would you add?
Jenine: We launched in a very unique set of circumstances in 2020 when we restructured, of course, we were all excited. We went to CSUN and then the pandemic came along and turned everyone’s world upside down. Now that things are, I don’t want to jinx it by say getting back to normal, but they’re stabilizing a bit. Now it’s time to really start concentrating on sustainability.
Jonathan: This has been fascinating to watch both from the outside and in for a while actually because it’s not unusual for a startup like Aira to go through these phases. I think what hasn’t changed is that there was this really good idea that you could provide professional sighted assistance. They could have access to all sorts of information, not just about what you could see, but about you, about various preferences and there’ve been various ways of doing that.
The Glasses, they were eventually retired, various options although they’re back in some form now, of course with the Envision glasses. I think the key issue is how do people pay for this, especially in a community with such a massive level of unemployment. There’s not a lot of disposable income in the blind community. It seems that that amazing role of the dice that your immediate predecessor Troy did, which was to offer this free Aira service to, I guess I’m imagining incentivize people to use the service so that it would be easier to go out there and sell Aira access. That was really the philosophy, right?
Troy: That was really the philosophy. It wasn’t just one, back to jobs and education, I think current Aira, the past Aira we were always believed that we should and can play a role in reducing those numbers, whether it’s 70% unemployment, there’s different sources. We look at education similarly, like what is the acceptance rate, the progression rate of people in college. I think we’ve talked about even here in the states, we’ll be launching K through 12 sometime next year.
Yes, that original plan was how do we get more in a technical term, monthly active users, people just using the service so that there’s a greater set of individuals that a company like Starbucks or an airport or someone who wants to deploy Aira for the benefit of their user base for our combined customers certainly having more users makes that use case more exciting to those companies.
You’re 100% right and a VT-3-backed model, a way to do that. If you look at Lyft or lots of startups, they buy the market forward. They reduce the cost of entry to gain the eyeballs. They talk about it sometimes with the number of folks with the hope that they can at some point monetize or make the business model profitable. I don’t think Uber’s profitable yet, by the way. It can take a long time. That was definitely the goal and the strategy.
Even though we reduced it in 2020 from an unlimited number of five-minute free calls you could do back-to-back. We did put some restrictions on it and we’ve since evaluated how those are being used and it’s evolved, it’s changed. The behavior pattern, I would say today the way people use the five-minute free offer as an example today compared to 2020 is different. One of the things our company’s founded on is using data to make good decisions.
We’re looking to make good decisions on how we invest or spend on things that don’t give us an immediate return as well as the things that do fund the service such as the subscriber plans. Ultimately knowing that this audience is unemployed at the rate that we talked about, I would still like to preserve use of Aira for people who cannot afford all the minutes that they might want. I think that still comes down to growing the access business as well as through any government partnerships. Here in the US there’s three states today that provide Aira for free such as Alabama, where anybody in the state can sign up with AIDB and get Aira basically unlimited for free. That’s why Alabama is able to afford that, Aira is not.
Jonathan: As we heard on this podcast some weeks ago, there are some paying customers who get a bit grumpy if they feel that their access has been delayed because of the free promotion. There’s that downside as well. You mentioned that the way that this five-minute offer has been used has changed. Can you elaborate on that? In what way has it changed?
Troy: One of the principles we have in anything we do free, so again free being where Aira’s paying for it, is we look at being equitable. We look at how many individuals make use of it. We also look at the depth of use, like is a subset using the majority of the funds or is it spread across? We believe, especially when Aira is investing their dollars, we believe spreading it out to be equal should be the goal. When we restructured in 2020, we saw some differences. Some users might use up to twice as much as some other users.
Well, that metric has moved to where whether you’re a guest or a subscriber, the amount of the– and again, we’re going to talk about five minute free, the amount of five minute free being consumed is concentrated in a small minority. I’ll say this, if you’re one of those, I don’t judge, I don’t blame, I try and make the most efficient use of my time and my funds and if it’s available to you, why wouldn’t you? I don’t think we should judge people who make great use of this offer.
At the same time we are looking to distribute it more equitably across the widest number of people. That’s what’s changed Jonathan is the concentration of use has changed from a more general distribution to one that is concentrated probably in those who have incorporated into their life in a way that makes it convenient for them. That’s our assumption but that’s the big change.
Jonathan: What will you be changing about the free offerings?
Troy: We announced a couple things. One is on the total budget of free that Aira provides. The major uses of our Aira-funded investment have been five-minute free for guests, five minute free for subscriber. Our job seeker promotion which will continue but at a reduced rate has also been another one that has attracted a lot of usage. We also have invested over the course of the year. Sometimes we call it agent-voted promos or it’s like the promotion of a month. Those have also generated some demand but the big changes are to job seeker, five minute free for subscriber, and five-minute free for guest. Here’s where Jenine can help keep me honest in case I’m forgetting one other one but I think those are the major changes.
Jenine: Those are the big three.
Troy: Those are the big three. What I’m about to describe is what we will be executing on December 5th.
Jenine: December 5th, yes, on Monday.
Troy: On December 5th what I’m about to describe will go into effect with the five-minute free for guests and five-minute free for subscribers. We’re going to look to see what effect that has. We may adjust again. Again the philosophy is we want to provide the most equitable access for people whether through access partners or in a sense Aira’s its own access partner. We want to shape the right plan. We’re going to make an adjustment knowing that we don’t have a crystal ball on usage but it’s going to work as following.
Currently, if you’re a guest so you don’t have a paid subscription you get all the benefits of access offers to the extent they’re available for you and the use cases you need. We’re always looking to grow those but currently guests get one free five-minute call every 24 hours. That means if you make a call and you use that five minutes we have a little clock in the background that runs. When that 24 hours is up you’re eligible to make another five-minute call.
You don’t have to call every day, you don’t even have to call every month but when you do that’s the way that works. That five-minute call every 24 hours is going to change to every 48 hours. You can do the math on a month with 31 days, you used to have 31 calls, now you’re going to have let’s call it 15. Let’s talk about subscribers or customers who have a paid plan. Today you get one free five-minute call every four hours, on December 5th that’s going to drop to one five-minute call every 12 hours.
Jenine: Troy, let me tell people where they can find that in the app. If you are thinking how am I going to know when I can get my next free call? You’re going to go under the usage tab and right up at the top under where you have your plan which plan you’re on, it is going to tell you in those first couple swipes when you’re going to get to that point where you can make your next free call, my next free call may be in two hours. It may be in 27 hours if I’m a guest. That’s where you’ll find it under the usage tab. That tab is at the bottom of the screen in the iOS app. It is I believe in the navigation drawer on the Android app.
Jonathan: I imagine you’ll be anticipating this will save a significant sum of money for Aira.
Troy: It’s going to save money in the form of how we staff our agents. It’s also going to make staffing, I use the word more predictable or easier. Our goal is to staff enough agents so we can answer your call in under 30 seconds ideally under 15. I think that’s part of the magic of when you need an on-demand visual interpreter or sighted assistant who’s professional and trained, it’s about getting that person when you need it, not having to wait. We can’t make any guarantees because we again have to see what the usage and the change looks like.
It is about staffing more appropriately and making sure that we’re most efficient with that staffing. You could say at some level it is about reducing the investment that we’re making in free so we can make investments elsewhere. I think we all know that software and hiring great agents, building great product takes money. We believe that these changes will allow us to continue to prioritize those efforts which I think are core of the product and the experience.
Jonathan: Obviously people will really miss having such ready access to Aira and there will be some people who genuinely can’t afford it, who will feel that this is quite a hardship. You made the point, Troy, that there were three states that were essentially paying for Aira for blind people at the moment. Why is it that there are only those three states? Why aren’t more states paying for Aira funding it in the same way that voc rehab agencies fund screen readers for example? Why hasn’t Aira cut through in that same way?
Troy: I think we’re slowly cutting through. I think at some level I’m going to say is a little inspired by one of our recent hires, Sevana Massih who runs our entire agent organization we call service delivery. We are a tool one of many tools. If you look at the large category of accessibility there’s been a lot of tools that have been around for a long time like screen readers. I think if you walk up to most individuals still not all and you say do you know what a screen reader is? I think you pick your number one out of five, one out of three. It’s a number I wish I knew, they would go I get it or I understand why that makes sense. Screen reader should exist and let’s just take the case of employment. It’s a reasonable accommodation and it’s provided.
Aira’s still five to six years old depending on how you want to think about it. We only started selling the concept of access four years ago. I can tell you from Aira’s point of view, our biggest challenge is just awareness. When we talk to a state, we talk to voc rehab, we talk to a company like Starbucks or Amazon, that initial conversation we are doing a lot of educating about how many people are blind, how do they operate, what are the tools they have and then we get into what Aira does.
Jenine: I think to Troy’s point as well we as blind people aren’t used to asking for this as a reasonable accommodation. It hasn’t been around that long and how many rehabilitation counsellors are out there saying can’t you just get a co-worker to help you or a family member or someone like that. That ableism is even rooted so deeply in a lot of the systems in our society that we’re not used to having a service like Aira or even a volunteer service like the ones that are out there now. It’s a matter of getting us used to saying, hey, you know what? This is out there and I deserve access to visual information when I want it not when it’s convenient for somebody else.
Jonathan: You’ve got to articulate the value proposition I suppose. You mentioned volunteer services that are out there and Be My Eyes is the big one. People know about that. I suppose the challenge for Aira is to try and articulate what value paying for Aira adds over services that are staffed by volunteers.
Troy: Absolutely. I think in the commercial private industry that’s a easy differentiation. They want to secure trusted service that is backed by trained agents. I like the idea that Be My Eyes out there and I like it because it means that people are choosing visual interpretation as a concept. That is a solution and it’s good to have more than one vendor of a service. Having Be My Eyes out there if that’s how people start to become aware of visual interpreting, I think that helps because then when you land a customer like Starbucks maybe that’s where you want to go. It’s not that big of a leap to go from I already used Be My Eyes but I can use Aira for free in the same way but I’m connected to a professional.
Our path in the commercial space is pretty straightforward. It’s still that question of like what is visual interpreting? How does this work? To your point what is the benefit, Jenine gave a couple good examples, that takes time in education. I’d say in the public sector space it’s a similar story. The difference with government as they just move at a much, much slower pace. I think the good news about government-based investments is they move slow in both reactions. It’s slow to adopt but once you have that in place it tends to stay there. I think the reference point becomes a very strong reference points.
States here in the US and perhaps in other countries look to the pioneers to make decisions and then they’re faster to follow. We’re hopeful that landing some key participants here in the US and maybe outside the US will then generate that next sale. Maybe that’ll generate the next two and then the next four so that we can blanket all the use cases with some form of paid sponsorship.
Jonathan: We have this situation now where guests who could make one call every day can only make one call every two and that may be causing them to think, I wonder if I can afford an Aira plan. You mentioned that those plans are changing. Have you announced details of that pricing change yet?
Troy: No, there’s two decisions you can make today. If you’re what we call a guest you’re not paid. We committed, Jenine, what, two months ago, three months ago we messaged that we’re going to be making some changes and I wanted to make sure people had time to evaluate. I’m also not a believer in if it can be avoided to make too many decisions at once. I know that it takes us all time to absorb and think about the choices that we’re going to make with our money, let’s say and our time.
Your choice today, Jonathan, if you’re a guest, is to pick one of our current retail plans so the three plans you can sign up for by calling Aira are going to be available now and up until January 16th. If you’re on that plan on January 16th and you continue to pay for that plan, you get to continue to use that plan. If you’re a guest, you can sign up for those plans today and you don’t have to look at our new plans at all. You can certainly evaluate them. Our new plans are going to look more expensive than our current plans because we did say we are raising the price of Aira so by definition, by design they are going to be more expensive but the current plans that we have are available and if you’re on them on January 16th, you can continue to pay for them all the way through 2023.
Jonathan: Is it the double whammy? That’s the problem here, Troy, in the sense that most people might think, well, it is reasonable that you can’t keep giving away too much free stuff or the business isn’t sustainable so you’re tightening up on that but at the same time you’re signaling that the new plans are going to be less generous. Wouldn’t it have been better to just curtail the free offering and leave the prices of the plans as they are?
Troy: It would, we looked at that, but we actually need to use both levers to achieve the outcome we need. That’s where we started like can we reduce or eliminate our investment in free to the point to make everything sustainable? Unfortunately, the Excel spreadsheet said, no, you need to make more than one change and so that’s why we’re doing two sets of changes as you just said.
Jenine: Probably if we did not have the recession that we have now we probably could have done that but the economy’s just not allowing us to do that.
Troy: I think the reality is we have not repriced these in a long time. All the services I use have gone up in cost and all the products I’ve used and at the same time, labor’s gone up. There are economic forces that are probably going to continue, so you also have to ask the question of where will the economy be not in January of 2023, where is it going to be in January, 2024? If you don’t anticipate those you’re going to be constantly making changes to catch up.
We’re looking to avoid constant repricing and continuing changes even though at the end of the day, again our mission is to remain viable and grow the access business. We’re going to do whatever it takes, but today we’re announcing that we’re reducing our investment in what we call free Aira and we are going to be raising prices. Again, if you’re someone who already uses Aira and you see a value there you have the option to lock in the current pricing for all of 2023, which I hope you realize it’s going to be the majority of our users I think in 2023 are going to come from those plans because they’re going to carry them through. It’s new to Aira, new subscribers who will be looking at the only option is the new 2023 pricing, which will be more expensive than the current retail plans.
Jonathan: I take it that you would lock in the plan that you are on. In other words, if you are on the bottom plan right now and in 2023 you want to upgrade, you would have to upgrade to one of the newer plans, correct?
Jonathan: It’s important for people to think about the minutes that they may want to use throughout 2023 and lock in the right plan. The other question I have for you is whether there will be more plans, we accept that they’re more expensive in 2023, but there was some feeling that there was quite a big gap between the bottom plan and the middle plan. Are you still going to have three in 2023 or will there be more?
Troy: We are in that discussion. I’ve heard that feedback loud and clear and there’s not a large downside to us having more plans. Our goal is not to constrain you. There is a human limit to if you present someone with 100 plans, they’re probably going to have to go away and think a long time and I don’t want to burden people with a ton of thought. It’s not going to be 100 plans, it’ll all but likely be more than three and we are looking to produce the right distribution in both costs and minutes so that most people can find a plan that’s suited to them. We are looking at adding more plans. I’m all but short of committing to that, but you can hear in my voice and my thinking that that seems to make a lot of sense.
Jonathan: Anybody who’s run a business and has had to balance the books understands the imperative here the business has to pay its way. Have you considered prepay minutes that could be purchased without having a plan? Because there are some people who genuinely can’t afford this, but they would like to have a few Aira minutes in the bank so that they could use those as required.
Troy: Absolutely. That’s another use case that we want to make sure is affordable, achievable and so that is something you may see. I’ve heard that. I should also say this, whatever we come out with on January 16th, we can always add and adjust. You heard me before, I’m looking not to make so many adjustments that people get confused, but that is a, call it an insurance plan, call it a whatever you want a title it is the idea that you can somehow prepay for some minutes but you’re not on a plan is one that I’ve heard and our job is to listen to our customer and provide what they need.
At this point, since we haven’t reconciled internally what those plans are, we’re literally actively working this every day. Those are some of the discussions we’re having and looking to make sure we give you the option you want at the price that we can both afford together.
Jonathan: Right, because it’s potentially revenue foregone right now, isn’t it? If there are people who just will not make a monthly commitment, but they would happily hand over some money to you for a bank of minutes, that’s revenue foregone.
Troy: Yes, it is.
Jonathan: All right. Let’s talk about these legacy plans, some of which were incredibly generous. What are legacy plans for those who are not familiar with that term?
Troy: Legacy plans are, by our definition any plan that you can’t buy today. You’re on a plan that was offered sometime before 2020 maybe stretching all the way back to Aira in 2015, 2016, 2017 and while we’ve changed our pricing and our packaging three years ago, at that time we chose not to sunset those plans. Some of them were very generous. That was in a phase of Aira where we were venture-backed and–
Jonathan: That unlimited plan was glorious.
Troy: It was. I have to comment on that one too that my former role was chief operating officer. I was very focused on economics and staffing in the operations Aira and that plan in particular was a fun one because we just didn’t know what would happen like, what happens if you give folks the ability to buy unlimited? The hypothesis was that the average would settle out at a point and allow us to price it profitably. Where we ran into challenge was it wasn’t equitable.
You’d have some people use, I’m not going to use real numbers, but you have some people use thousands and thousands and thousands of minutes a month and you’d have some use hundreds yet they’re all paying the same amount and so unlimited is a great concept, but it doesn’t meet that equitable portion. It was hard to justify having people all pay the same amount and then use such a wide variety.
The second problem with that one is we do find people use Aira more and more the longer they are with it. It’s not true in all cases I think some people use it to learn or for example, specific to navigation. They’ll use it to learn new things and then given other tools they’re able to to go on their own. I think that is also true, but in general people use more over time and so unlimited is just a very interesting extreme example of a plan.
There are lots of different plans out there that have far more minutes than current plans at the same price. Just to simplify our operations, frankly, we are moving to a fixed number of available plans starting in 2023. Those will either be the new ones we come up with that we explained will be more expensive or it will be one of the three current plans that we offer today and including some folks may not know that you can buy a plan through your in-country community. In the case the US there’s an ACB plan there’s an NFB plan. In other countries we have similar plans in Canada and you can purchase those. Those are also considered to be plans that we will retain if you’re on that plan starting in 2023. We consider those also to be plans that you will be able to operate through 2023 if you’re on them before January 16th.
We will be sending out lots of communications so that– and Jenine can help me here describe how you figure out what plan you’re on and how you’re going to know is that a plan that is going to continue if you’re on January 16th. Despite all best efforts someone for whatever reason is not going to hear the podcast not going to receive the emails not going to know. Unfortunately, there’s going to be a fairly firm line. We’re consistent that if you’re on a legacy plan on January 17th you’ll no longer be in a paid plan, you’ll be converted to a guest. My hope is that there is nobody who is surprised by that. Equally, I just know given the number of customers you have that’s a real potential. I thank you Jonathan for helping get the word out because it’s really about making sure the customer isn’t surprised
Jonathan: How many customers are going to be affected by this?
Troy: I don’t know that I have that number at my fingertips. I want to say it’s a big enough population that it is in the category of 10 to 20% of our user base.
Jonathan: Wow. They’ve clung onto those plans and they could be quite significantly disrupted by this. The whole way that they deal with life could change because of this.
Troy: Again my goal is that they can make a choice that best suits them and that they’re not unconsciously opting to jump into a more expensive 2023 plan because they have been with us. That means a lot I think both from a company perspective but just really applaud our users. They’ve guided us to the product we have and we continue to grow and I don’t want to disincentivize those folks. We’re going to do our best to communicate with all of them.
Jonathan: Some of the customers who are on those higher level plans there may not currently be an equivalent plan even on offer for them. The only way that they would be able to achieve something similar would be to go to that top tier and then keep buying add-on minutes. That could be a very significant price increase for some use cases.
Troy: Yes, we see that and we understand that will be a change.
Jenine: Also for those people who may be using those minutes for job activities or with an employer or whether they’re a small business person there may be other opportunities to make up for that particular piece of their minutes.
Jonathan: Would you be able to provide some advocacy as it were if somebody comes to you and says well actually I’m using this on my job I’m really going to be significantly disadvantaged. Would you go into bat for that person and talk to the employer and try and secure Aira access?
Troy: I’m going to use these words, hell, yes. I’ll tell you two reasons why. One is again we’re trying to be efficient with our resources. We have a small but powerful sales team. It’s not hundreds of sales folks it’s not even tens of sales folks. They have to be efficient with their time and invest their time in opportunities that are most likely to convert their time into a sale. That’s sales 101. Anyone like you said who owns a business or if you just think about how you spend your own time you do it based on what’s the likelihood of the outcome.
Our best and most likely sales are driven when there is an individual let’s say in an employment setting, in an education setting that is paying for Aira and can articulate the benefit or even lead us to the decision maker or the internal champion. We look forward to that call. We get a lot of inbound communication and we describe that but often we’ll get literally that, “Hey, I’m employed by XYZ company, I use Aira, I hear that other employers are providing Aira can you help me?”
We jump on those. We contact that individual, we provide them the information but really we don’t expect that individual to go make the sale. We’re there to arm them with whatever information they think they need but the minute we can identify a decision maker or someone who is in a position to make a decision or influence a decision that’s the job of the Aira sales team to then have the conversation explain what it is, explain how it’s delivered the, benefits. Yes, absolutely.
Jonathan: Aira is a revolutionary product and watching it evolve has been fascinating. Where I’m going with this is that some people might argue, Troy, well, this plan that I’m on, this legacy plan that you’re retiring it’s like a loyalty discount because I stayed with you when the Glasses were there when there were really horrible crises and customer service. We all know about that. When there was an issue scaling and sometimes there weren’t enough agents because you just learn over time how many people to roster on all those things. These customers have stayed loyal. They had to be loyal because the moment they let that plan drop for one second they couldn’t have had that plan anymore. These customers have been a constant source of revenue for a very long time. Isn’t there a loyalty discount argument there?
Troy: There is a loyalty. I think you just made it. One thing we looked at is to reprice everything starting 2023. Not only discontinue the legacy plans but discontinue the current plans. It’s why we’re giving folks a heads up a form of a loyalty nod, like, hey, rather than just blindly reprice everyone into a new more expensive plan let’s give all of our existing paid customers the ability to carry on in the current free commercial plans.
Jenine: We’re also more fluid too, right, Troy? Being able to possibly work with a loyalty program that’s going to work within our budget.
Jonathan: In terms of this new plans. Some people listening might say look I’ll make the monthly commitment but what I would really like is to be assured that the minutes I buy every month are my minutes to use. In other words let them roll over, let them accumulate. Is that something that you are considering? This one keeps coming up, doesn’t it? The old rollover minutes argument.
Troy: It does. We started with two models that ultimately did not work well for either the Explorer or Aira. The first one when we came out was you could just buy a block of minutes and when you run out you buy more. By definition rollover, if you will. Maybe again I should retest this but what would happen is people would sign up, they loved the idea, they’d purchase a bunch of minutes, and then they wouldn’t use the minutes. We go back to them and we were small enough we literally knew every customer like, “Why haven’t you used service? The answer was, “I don’t know when my biggest need will be. I’m not yet sure what to use it for. I think I’ll try it when I really have something that warrants me using the service.”
Then over time it wasn’t spreading, then people were not learning how to use Aira. We got some advice from other folks whether it’s AT&T or other folks that are in quote subscription business. They’re like, “The whole point of a subscription is to provide something that you consume every month.” Whether it’s the times or your content media and then you renew and you’re basically looking to reestablish that commitment that you’re providing the right service on an ongoing basis. One answer on that model was it didn’t cause people to try and explore new behavior with Aira. Now maybe that’s changed. That’s a good thing I’ll think about.
The next one was rollover. Rollover was really interesting, Jonathan, that it seemed like simple enough to roll over minutes. What instead happened is there was both confusion over when I got my bill or I looked at my usage tab or I evaluated how many minutes I had rolled over. There was a lot of confusion. People were spending a ton of time either calling support or adding up or keeping spreadsheets on double-checking the math. We had add-on minutes and so we’re like my add-on minutes and my credit minutes and my rollover minutes. It was just very confusing. We spent almost more money in customer care, customer support calls trying to fill the questions about rollover.
I think there’s some other models out there that we might explore. You might not see them right off the bat in 2023 that provide that same concept. If you look at what a lot of airline companies do with points there’s a rollover that occurs but at the end of the year things don’t roll over or the frequency maybe of rollover like the timing or the percent of the minutes that rollover change.
I can tell you at a certain level we do price set in. If we did have to provide the service and the complete amount of minutes associated with the account and we’re still going to remain sustainable we have to account for those minutes as well. Where in fact today we know. Just to be blunt about it like I know that not everyone is going to use a 100% of their minutes. Makes sense. I don’t use a 100% of my data plan on my mobile. I’m paying for a certain limit and the company that provide those services factor those into their pricing, we do as well.
I think that’s a tricky one that I’ll be honest we haven’t thought of the right model that allows you to not feel as though you’re being gypped or somehow underutilizing minutes you’ve paid for while equally not putting you into a mindset that I can hold onto these forever and therefore I’m going to wait for the most extreme need. Because when that happens– I talk to a lot of folks and they end up almost they defer this feeling of I’m not making the most use fixing, I wish I would’ve used it last month. It’s a lot of words to say I recognize that there is that feeling and it’s real. I get it. We’re going to do some thinking on how best to avoid that belief that somehow you’re not getting your full value. because I do get it.
Jenine: I think too Troy, what will help with that is having more than the three plans we have now. More choices for people.
Troy: Where the gap between —
Jenine: It’s going to help them.
Troy: That gap can be very large given we only have three plans.
Jonathan: You’re going to be implementing these new plans on January the 16th. When will you announce what those plans are?
Jenine: We are looking at the first week in January, either the second or the third. We don’t want to do it on Monday. That’s not the way we want to start the new year. It’ll probably be on the third which I believe is a Tuesday. It will be sometime in that first week in January. We’re giving people two weeks to absorb and take a look at either keep what they have if they are leaving one of the legacy plans, they will get their remaining minutes from that month’s legacy plan as add-on minutes.
A letter went out to our legacy customers talking about your plan and what plan you have. If you’re not sure you’re thinking I don’t even know what plan I have, again, you can go to that usage tab. It’s the very first thing at the top of the screen, it will tell you what plan you have. If you want to read more about legacy plans about the current retail plans that we have, you can go to aira.io/newsroom. We have a quick start guide there and there’s a link there to a much more pedantic article all about legacy plans and retail plans and anything you want to know about the new pricing.
Troy: Another reason we are making the change to the free frequency the guest and the paid, we know that some users use a lot of the free and I think when thinking about what plan do I need not everyone is conscious, especially subscribers, about the free minutes they’re using. I know some people might go you’re just doing that to save money sooner. We did put some thinking into it going, it’s in the best interest of the explorer to adjust to what it looks like with the new investment in free versus the old, which was certainly more generous starting next week. You’ll also get to experience that directly as an individual. Then as Jenine just said the new plans will be announced in that first couple days of January before the cutoff date is for adopting a retail plan through 2023.
Jonathan: Just before we wrap, let’s talk a bit if we could about the web interface for Aira and how that’s being received. It’s something that I’m finding very convenient. I guess the feedback’s been positive about that.
Troy: I was about to turn it over to you and you tell me. No, I think we have such tremendous access to data when I talk to new potential access partners, employers. That’s one of the questions, what do people use it for? A third of our calls is related to someone sitting at their computer looking to get a task done. It’s almost twice as much in minutes and calls as what you might call navigation.
Even though that is a killer use case for many navigation in an airport and all that like everyone votes with their time and where the vote goes is a third of it is what we call computer or online. That’s why we chose to make a web interface because folks are saying it’s tedious to pick up the phone and to go through all the exercise to communicate with the agent when in fact there’s plenty of programs that connect two people over the internet like Google Meet or Zoom or whatever.
That’s why we did it. I would say it’s been well received and we are currently continuing to add functionality to bring it up on par with our mobile app in terms of features. For example, I know it’s coming, I don’t know what we’ve announced but we’re going to do it anyway. We’re marching towards the end of the year when the desktop will have all the same capabilities as the mobile app.
Most recently I think we’ve been working on the access profiles so that if you’re someone who can use Aira at their job at a University, you can switch between profiles. I think the one piece that we’re still working on is, how do we deliver a great access experience? How do you choose between the promotions that aren’t geolocated, they’re just straight-up promotions like the JAWS offer? How can you select that without telling the agent at the start of the call? How can you shop find and then apply those before you start the call?
We’re working on that but overall the feedback’s been great. One more thing because I’d love to talk about product is as we’ve always said this new platform, this new app, if you will, the desktop is not just for the web only it’s also our new mobile experience. We have in beta test right now with a subset of explorers, the Aira mobile apps. For iOS, for Android is the very same experience that the desktop is. There’ll be no more of of this differentiation between Android and iOS.
Today the commercial Android and iOS app behaves slightly different. There’s just differences in some cases. I think the iOS app has a few more features than Android maybe one or two. We’re going to a unified platform that is going to allow us to be more efficient. Again we’re looking to do the best with our resources as we can, whether that’s how we invest in free but also how we invest in our technology. It’s a long way of saying that desktop is going great for seeing increased adoption but it’s also paving the way to produce a common experience that suits everyone.
Jonathan: To a VoiceOver user, is that new app going to look and feel like a native app or is it going to look and feel like the web?
Jenine: Absolutely. The best example of it, Jonathan, is the app that we have running right now on the BlindShell Classic 2 phone, that’s the exact app. Well, as closest, we’re going to get it I’m sure but that’s what you’re going to see on your iOS device or your Android device. It is going to look very much like a standard iOS/Android app rather than a website that is performing those things.
Troy: Just to be maybe a 100% clear to maybe start, it is a native app. It’s not an app that happens to launch a browser. It’s a true native app with buttons with links, with titles, with conscious choices about the order in which we are providing, menu options and all that. We have a very dedicated team is looking at a lot of nuance and detail to make sure that not only is it accessible but it’s usable. Then that usability is as you would expect with any other highly accessible app on your platform.
That’s our commitment to all of you. It’s like we will never give up. We will never surrender. We will never give up on improving that experience and making sure that it’s the very best and a great example of an accessible app that goes beyond just the accessibility standards.
Jenine: I have to laugh because one thing that I think our whole engineering team we all agreed on was accessibility doesn’t have to be boring. We can be really cool and be perfectly accessible. We want to be able to show people that.
Jonathan: Very cool. When I use Aira one of the things I really appreciate is if I’m in a bind and something just has to get done, I can have an agent remote into my machine and help me solve a capture or do something like that. I feel like it’s a blast from the past because Aira’s the only reason why I keep team viewer around on my machine now. I’m using Rim all the time which is such a much more accessible pleasant way to go. Will we see Rim integrated with Aira at any point?
Troy: I think I’ve been pretty vocal that I’m not a 100% happy with TeamViewer. It’s not a fully accessible app and it’s why we– what is it? Four months ago, five months ago, we added both Microsoft Quick Assist which is built in native app into Windows and we added Chrome Remote Desktop as alternatives. I don’t think the uptake has been there because I know most people think that TeamViewer is the only option.
The first thing I just want to make sure we’re all clear on today you have three options. If you’re on Windows you have three options. If you’re on the Mac, you have two. Now you’re talking about a fourth which is Rim. Jonathan have you tried Chrome– are you Mac or Windows?
Jonathan: I’m Windows.
Troy: Did you know you could use Microsoft Quick Assist or Chrome Remote Desktop?
Jonathan: I think I knew it once but I have forgotten. Is there documentation on that?
Troy: Yes, it have it.
Jenine: Yes, actually it is, and where you can find that.
Jonathan: There you go. I should read the fine manual.
Jenine: Exactly, our TM [unintelligible 00:59:54]. Whichever you like.
Troy: Again, thank you for having us on. Communicating and sharing Aira that’s our job. It’s not your job, it’s not the Explorer job but certainly being on a podcast like this allows us to bring up the change because you start using– and I’d say we just started like the apps I use, they add new functionality and if I’m not paying attention, and I’m not curious, I don’t find it.
Our agents are not trained, they’re not there to train you. If you call and say, “I want to do a TeamViewer session,” they’re going to do a TeamViewer session. We thought about adding to that like, “Oh, did you could, instead do X or Y,” but they are really just trained to get right onto the job and with minutes and seconds being so precious. It’s that trade-off on time and money. It may be where we use some of our investment in free Aira to sponsor some of those things in the future, we’ll see.
Today, just to be clear, you can use Chrome and Windows. The beauty of those two solutions, is they are fully accessible. You got trillion-dollar companies or whatever you want. They’re companies with large accessibility budgets and people who want to get it right invested in those apps. The advantage of Quick Assist is it’s built into the operating system. Depending on what version of Windows you run, et cetera, you don’t even have anything extra to install. It’s just there.
Chrome Remote Desktop is as easy or I’ve been told an easier solution to install than compared to TeamViewer. I want to be clear on that. RIM is one that I think you brought up, it’s a little hard for us to evaluate. We only have so many engineering cycles and until I get a little more feedback on Windows and Chrome, which are, by the way, free for Aira, free for you to use, and accessible, RIM would be an investment in engineering and also I believe they have a paid solution which, if it’s a great solution then Aira or someone should pay for it. I’m not disagreeing with that.
Jonathan: Yes, it would require Aira to pay for it.
Troy: Then we’re back to this conversation about, where do we invest our dollars? I’m not trading these off but if at some level, they trade-off in a balance sheet like, do we pay for an alternative to TeamViewer or do we– what I propose or where we’re headed at the moment. It’s like A, given it costs money to, for example, integrate something like RIM. We pay license fees, let’s first see what the new alternative is, and until maybe we get a little more adaption to find out if that’s not fully meeting the needs of folks. Those kinds of investments are what I call on the backlog to be determined across all features.
I think another one we’re all going to excited about, and probably the topic of a future podcast in 2023 but we are really anticipating getting excited about what we’ve talked about in the past, which is call management. Where we’ve talked about like, can I schedule an agent or can the app call me back when the agent is ready so I don’t have to wait on hold or can I seamlessly transition from one agent to another in a way that is even more efficient than today? All of those kinds of things have to get traded off with other investments. We’re just trying to make the best choices. Hopefully, that answered the question on RIM but I would encourage anyone to go either Google Aira/Chrome Remote desktop or Aira Microsoft Quick Assist, I think that’s one way you can have those.
Jenine: I’ll give you an even better way to do it. This great little search thing on our website, right up at the top. There’s a little bar that you can click on that will expand into a search box and you just type in remote in there and it will take you to the webpage that talks about all of those things, which is Aira.io/desktop.
Jonathan: One final question the Envision Glasses, it’s generated a lot of excitement. The fact that glasses are back in some form with Aira. When I did the review, and I talked to one of the many Karthiks at Envision-
-and they’re making the point that there might be some work ongoing, optimizing the video feed. Anything to add there in terms of the quality of the video feed coming to agents?
Troy: I don’t have anything to report on the video feed. We should ask them again. We had Karthik, the CTO on our last explore call which is recorded, correction interview, you can always listen to it in more detail but he gave us an update on what they’ve been working on in response to feedback from our combined customers. One thing they had done is improve the quality of the image.
As most people who use Aira probably know, the video feed is continual set of frames or lots of pictures and the resolution of that is at a lower bandwidth because we’re conserving bandwidth or we’re appropriately using bandwidth but sometimes you need a detailed view of something. The agent has the ability with your consent to take an image capture of what’s on your camera sensor, what you’re pointed at, that’s in high resolution and Envision up until I think their current release didn’t have that capability. It was just a video grab.
I know they improved the image capture which agents use quite a bit on an ongoing basis and then you can also make use of it if you want the agent to take an image of whatever you want. They will not only take that, and save it to your personal photo storage, but will also describe it for you so that whether the title of the file or what’s in the image. That got better. I don’t have an update on the video. I don’t know what all they have at their fingertips. Even though Aira used to build its own version, I know that there is a limitation or can be a limitation in the hardware and software that is on Google Glass but what I don’t know is if they’re working on that.
They also if you listen to that recording, they are working on or they’re looking at ways to stream the location of really the phone, having the agent know where you are so they can look at a moving map if you’re outdoors is very helpful. Everyone knows that the dilemma with Envision Glasses is that the hardware doesn’t have a GPS sensor. Instead, they’re looking a way to send us the GPS coordinates that are on the phone in combination.
Jenine: We’ve got a couple of suggestions on that, that’ll be coming up [crosstalk].
Troy: That’s the one I think they’re looking at.
Jonathan: Very good. We’ve communicated a lot of information today. The best place to go would be just the main Aira website I take it for further information as these new prices come down and if anybody has any questions, is the toll-free number the best place to call?
Jenine: Absolutely, yes, and people can email if it’s inconvenient to call, they can email firstname.lastname@example.org and our customer care team will, if they can’t answer your question, which is highly unusual but if they can’t, they will get it to one of us who can.
Jonathan: Thank you both for coming on the podcast. I appreciate that. There’s a lot of change happening and we’ll keep in touch in the future, I’m sure.
Jenine: Absolutely. Thank you for having us.
Troy: Thank you, Jonathan. It’s always a pleasure to be on with you and you ask really great questions and you give really great suggestions, so it’s always a huge value for me personally, and I think for Aira as well.
Jonathan: Now there’s quite a lot to explore if I may use that term with Aira. One thing we did not cover that I just want to mention for completeness is that there is a change to their job seeker program. Starting this Monday, the 5th of December, you’ll be limited to 30 minutes per day, one 30-minute call per day, and Aira says they are seeking sponsorship for that job seeker program. Similar to the way that Intuit sponsors the small business program at the moment.
We’d like to know what you think whether you’re an existing subscriber or whether you’ve been using the free offering. Let me know whether you think these changes are fair and reasonable to keep Aira sustainable. 864-60 Mosen is my number. If you want to give me a phone call that’s in the United States, you can also record an audio message and attach that to an email or just write the email down if you prefer and you can send it into Jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com. Your perspective is of course always welcome.
Singers: Mosen At Large podcast.
Mastodon and the changing social media landscape
Jonathan: In last week’s episode of the podcast, I talked about why in my view, it is essential that blind people get behind not just Mastodon but the open protocols, particularly activity pub that power various Fediverse applications. There’s a whole suite of them out there. Twitter is getting worse and worse. The so-called free speech absolutism that its owner advocates for unless it’s speech he doesn’t agree with of course really is doing a lot of harm.
Here in New Zealand one of the most striking examples of this is the fact that videos of the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch here in New Zealand, that occurred on the 15th of March 2019 are surfacing on Twitter and if that’s what free speech absolutism is about, then as was a Groucho Marx said, “Include me out.” As I said in episode 206, with the firing of every single member of Twitter’s accessibility team, the chances are very good that rocky terrain is ahead. We seem to have hit some of that already.
I am told by several reliable sources that if you as a blind person tried to sign up with Twitter today, you cannot do that without sighted assistance. You get to a captcha and there is an audio option in that capture, which of course is no good for deaf-blind people. There are better ways of handling this but even if you can manage those audio captures it breaks you cannot proceed, I understand there’s quite a severe lockup for some people when they try to access that capture. You could use something like Aira or obtain sighted assistance, but you cannot independently at the time of this recording sign up for a new Twitter account. I think you’ll find that as new things roll out, assuming they are actually capable of rolling out new things, this is likely to get worse. If I might use a bird analogy in this context, people are flocking from Twitter under the circs that’s understandable.
I’m following this account on Mastodon where every hour they send some stats on how many people have signed up that hour and in the last 24 hours. What I’m seeing is that on average between about 50,000 and 60,000 new accounts are being created on Mastodon every hour, so it’s settled into a pretty steady stream at the moment. Then sometimes when Elon Musk does something particularly absurd, there’s a massive spike, and then it settles down to this pretty steady 50,000 to 60,000 new accounts an hour now.
We are starting to reach the real possibility of critical mass on Mastodon. That was one of the biggest criticisms that I noted back in episode 206, that it doesn’t matter how good the platform is, if people you want to communicate with and hear from are not there, but increasingly they are there. You’re seeing the same trend with Mastodon that we saw on Twitter at the beginning, which is that people with a bit of a technology bent go there first and then it reaches that technological critical mass, and others follow, but even now we are seeing certain companies, certain politicians, people of that nature already starting to come to Mastodon.
Not everybody’s going to Mastodon though. One of the options that some are pursuing is this new social network that’s been set up by an entrepreneur to capitalize on Twitter’s problems, and it is simply called Post. Now one of the interesting things about Post in the last week, is that they’ve been under some pressure to make their service accessible, and the founder of Post, published an article in which he stated that accessibility isn’t a priority. They want to build the service and then maybe at some future undetermined point they will get around, possibly maybe to accessibility.
This is why I am so passionate about blind people embracing open protocols because you could not have a situation like that going on with Mastodon or any Fediverse application because the protocols are open, they’re published. Any app developer who wants to can write an accessible way into the service, not just for blind people but for people who use a range of assistive technologies. This is our moment, this is our opportunity to take social media back, and the way that we do that is to be the change that we want to see.
The way we do that is to embrace Mastodon, which like any platform is not perfect. There’s scope for development, but the good thing is we can all develop it together if we are a part of the solution. Look at Mark Zuckerberg, look at Elon Musk, we have seen what happens when we allow a couple of very wealthy people to take control of our town squares. It is not healthy, it is exploitive, it is socially destructive, and we can do it better this time by embracing technologies like Mastodon.
The power is in our hands to claim our content back, our public discourse back, our civil discourse back. You look at what’s happening with this Post thing and we should be all saying, “Hell, no,” we are not going to let some other person decide that we don’t matter. That accessibility doesn’t count, that this wealthy individual can make a decision that locks us out. I take great pleasure in opening my Mastodon client and I’m playing with a couple actually just working out which one is best for me, but I open a Mastodon client in the morning and I see new followers, names from the blind community that I’m familiar with, and it gladdens my heart.
We are taking social media back. The quality of the dialogue is so much better. It’s not toxic like it was on Twitter, it’s a very positive thing. If you’re not there yet, I hope you’ll join us, especially in time to participate in the Mushroom FM holiday countdown and Christmas party on the 17th.
Now here’s Robert Kinget who says, “Hello, Mushroom and Mosen At Large listeners. It is absolutely wonderful the blind community is finally embracing the Fediverse.
I’d like to highlight some tips that will possibly enhance your use of the Fediverse. If you come across an image without descriptions, be sure to include the hashtag Alt4Me, and that is Alt, A-L-T the number 4, and then Me to request image descriptions from the community. Follow the Alt4You, that’s Alt, and then the number 4 and Y-O-U hashtag, to see what descriptions others have contributed.
If you’re adventurous and are trying out PeerTube, the YouTube of the Fediverse, and Fun Quail, the Sound Cloud of the Fediverse, you can subscribe to channels on either platform in your favorite podcast type of choice. Subscribe via RSS, and you can listen the same way you would podcasts. Same with Castopod, the podcast branch of the Fediverse. Lastly, if you’re new and struggling to find people, I’d follow hashtags instead of people. Your timeline will explode with all sorts of interesting people.”
Thanks, Robert, it’s good to see that the Fediverse embraces RSS so much. This actually applies to Mastodon as well. If there’s someone whose post you never want to miss, and it’s possible that you might want to do this with the Mosen At Large feed. If you’re a user of RSS and I highly recommend RSS technology to easily keep up for the range of websites in one accessible place, you can simply add .rss to the end of someone’s Mastodon instance URL. For example, you could go to email@example.com and then you can subscribe to the RSS feed of the Mosen At Large timeline in URL.
“Hello, Jonathan, from Michael, a blind pianist listener of yours in Toronto. I listened to your podcast episode 206 and manage to sign up to a Mastodon instance piano.masto.host and downloaded the TweeseCake app, but I’ve been failing getting them to work together. It’s important for me to use a desktop app for social media, so I can most easily copy and paste info about my musical activities I’ll be posting.
Here’s what I’ve tried. Maybe you can tell me what if anything I might have done wrong. In TweeseCake, I navigated to starting a Mastodon session, tabbed once to okay, then I changed the TweeseCake.social ending of the URL. It seems to be defaulting to my instance piano.masto.host. This brings me to a Microsoft Edge window saying authorization required. I assume this is a window of the Mastodon instance I’m signed up with. I navigate to authorize, then it gives me the authorization code.
I have then tried both tabbing to and pressing the copy button or selecting the code and copying it. Either way, I next Alt-tab, and I think I am back in TweeseCake. I hear Joe say Auth-Code. I pasted in what I think is the code and tab to okay, and press Enter. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes I get login failed, and a long string of words including Mastodon API returned error 400, bad request. It then sends me back to the instance window with the same authorization-required dialogue where I had just been. Do you have any guidance for me as to what I should try next?”
Michael, it sounds like you are doing everything right, from what I can tell. It is a long string of characters with Mastodon for security, so it’s not a simple series of digits like it used to be on Twitter, but if you are copying that to the clipboard with the copy button and then pasting it into the TweeseCake window, it should authorize. You might like to see if the TweseCake developers have any thoughts for you. I’m wondering if it works.
I know you want to use a PC client, but if you have a smartphone, does it work on your smartphone, because at least then, we’d be defining the problem a bit. We’d know whether this was a TweeseCake-specific issue or something with third-party apps and that instance. I know you want to be on that instance and given your interests and your profession, I understand why, but it might be worth trying another one just to see if you can get it to work. You could, for example, set up an account on tweesecake.social. What I can say is I have now authorized with four different Mastodon servers and I haven’t had this problem, so I don’t think TweeseCcake is at fault. It may just be something related to that particular instance.
Michael continues, “Some other random questions, if you have time, that I have not been able to figure out yet are. I think I might have once gone into invisible mode in TweeseCake but now the UI seems back. Is there a command to toggle between the two?” There certainly is Michael Control Windows and W is that keystroke.
“Is there a way I can change the default Mastodon instance away from TweeseCake.social?” Yes, you’re doing it the right way. It’s just putting it in there by default and that makes sense because TweeseCake Mastodon instance would be a logical default. One of the big challenges that people seem to have is picking an instance and you get as is often the case, a lot of misinformation being spread on Twitter that somehow instances can’t talk to other instances and this causes people to get into major angst about choosing their instance. Just to make it easy to use TweeseCake.social is the default, but you’re doing it the right way, you’re just clearing it and writing in the instance that you want to join.
“I tried-” says Michael, “-navigating around Mastodon a little directly using only my web browser and was not able to execute a search or more accurately, I could never find any search results on the page after I pressed the tab button. The local feed seems to have an unfortunate amount of commercial content, so obviously I need to do a search and to follow people if you have any tips for what works for a search string and how to navigate to the search results? Thanks.”
Well, Michael, it sounds like this might not be the best Mastodon instance because it’s very rare for Mastodon instances to be packed with commercial content, that is usually frowned upon. What you can do is you can either type in the username without the add sign at the beginning, if you know the specific username of somebody, or you can just type in their name. You can also search on hashtags, write the number sign, and then the string you’re searching for and that will usually deliver results as well. In Mastodon 4 you can now follow hashtags. Some instances are not using Mastodon 4 yet, so you won’t find that follow option everywhere.
“Also-” says Michael, “-naturally, if anyone has written this up online already, please let me know but I am not finding anything to help beginners on the internet yet and the TweeseCake documentation seems very minimal, unless I miss something. Thanks in advance if you are able to help and I think you are doing the right thing advocating for this open-source decentralized social media platform.”
Thank you, Michael. Best of luck with it. I’m sorry you’re having that frustration, I do wonder if another instance might help. Yes, I think it’s fair to say that the TweeseCake support is a work in progress and they are volunteers, they’re not charging for this app at this point and they’ve done a great job of improving it but I think the migration, this mass influx into Mastodon or the outflux, is outflux a word from Twitter? Really caught people on the hop and so a lot of app developers have kicked into gear trying to respond to this.
Another thing you may also like to try is since you’ve got this account on the instance, maybe try using pinafore. Now, if TweeseCake is having trouble authenticating as a third-party app, it’s possible that pinafore will have the same problem but pinafore is an alternative web interface as we mentioned in episode 206, and it is very accessible. It’s even more accessible now than it was in episode 206 because developers are actively working on accessibility and a lot of people speak very highly of pinafore, so you may like to try that. You just go to pinafore.social and enter your login credentials from the instance you’ve chosen and see how you get on there.
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More on iOS VoiceOver focus issues in lists
Jonathan: As is often the case we’re spending time talking about iOS and Carlotto follows up on a contribution that he made last week, he says, “Hi, I listened to the latest episode and heard that you were of the impression that the VO focus issue came with iOS 16. The iPhone 12 Mini that I used for the demo recording is running iOS 15.6.1 so it’s been present for quite a while. You probably haven’t bumped into it because your iPhone 12 Pro is fast enough so you don’t encounter the problem. When installing iOS 16, your iPhone became a little more sluggish and then you saw the problem.”
Thanks, Carlotto. I have never seen this problem, it’s other listeners who are reporting it and when it was first reported, I pointed out that I’ve just not seen this. That’s not to say that I doubt for a moment that it’s happening because too many people are reporting it but I just haven’t seen it for whatever reason and of course, these days, I’m rocking my iPhone 14 Pro Max.
My Siri doesn’t understand me
An email from Louis he writes, “Hello, Jonathan in Mosen At Large show 208 there was a discussion on whether for IOS 16.1.1, Siri could understand commands as well as it did in the past. For my SE 2020, I found that after you held down the home button, that it was necessary to wait two seconds before speaking your command. If you wait for this time, Siri will hear you as well as it did in the past. It seems that Siri needs two seconds to start listening. I always learn new things from your show,” says Louis. Thank you for writing in, Louis.
Somebody was talking about this earlier and if I’m remembering correctly, it was Joe Norton and he suggested the very same thing and he attributed the need to pause to the new tone, which sustains a bit longer than the old tone when you invoke Siri. I was having this problem first of all in iOS 15 before they changed the Siri invocation sound. I don’t think the tone has anything to do with it but you may be right having experimented a bit, that pausing still helps. What I found is that just using the H-E-Y Siri command is just a whole lot more reliable these days and that sometimes holding down the side button doesn’t invoke Siri properly, it gets into a weird state, and it really has deteriorated so where possible I just use the H-E-Y Siri command whenever I can.
Pam MacNeil is back also following up from her comments in episode 208, she says, “Hi, Jonathan. I found myself bookmarking heaps from today’s program to note later as I was awake at 5:00 AM and listened to the newly downloaded Mosen At Large podcast. Just a quick note RE my iPhone issues. I have checked iCloud and I am definitely signed in. When I checked the storage, I found that I am only using a mere 35.1 gigabytes out of a total of 128 gigabytes so I have plenty of storage to play around with.” Thanks so much for the advice.
“RE Cardhop, I have installed the free version at present while I work out if I need the paid features, I might demonstrate Cardhop at some point because it’s a really good app.” Pam also says, “Thanks also for the tips on Alt with Q. This, of course, was in the context of Office 365, which I didn’t know about, and have also used to turn the annoying autocorrect features off. I agree that the new voices available in iOS are great. Now all I need is to be able to install the voices for my favorite TV and radio actors, which will be awesome.”
Guide dog refusals
Catherine: Hi, Jonathan. This is Catherine from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I love your show. I’d like to share a guide dog refusal story with a happy ending. My friend and I, a few years back, went to a restaurant that I had been to previously but it had been a few years since then, so it was under new management. My friend and I and my guide dog came into the restaurant and the host told us that we couldn’t come in, no pets allowed, et cetera, et cetera. I explained that this was a service dog, not a pet and what he did for his service, and still no entry into the restaurant, we were ushered into a waiting area for about 5 or 10 minutes and then I was thinking maybe he’s checking with a supervisor.
Eventually, with nothing going on, I went back into the main area of the restaurant and continued the discussion and I tried to be as conciliatory as I could and saying, “I’d really hate to call the police, that would be a shame. I had explained all about the Americans with Disabilities Act and made it clear that I didn’t want to do this, but that I would if necessary,” and I still wasn’t permitted to enter.
Then finally I tried a new tack I said, “Well, gosh, I’d hate to write a bad review for you all on Yelp, that would just really be a shame,” and we were admitted immediately in a table in the main restaurant, we weren’t hidden away or anything like that and they even brought us extra food, not for the guide dog obviously but for us. I was just really happy to tell people at that point that they should eat at that restaurant, that we had gotten good service and it was a happy ending. Thanks, have a great day.
Jonathan: Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing which button to push, Catherine and you found the right button. That is a reminder to all of us that if we are refused at these places, then there is Yelp. In the case of hotels, there is Tripadvisor, and no doubt if the hotel that gave us all the grief, but then ultimately were profusely apologetic earlier in the year. Have not been profusely apologetic, we would’ve done that. We would’ve put a review on Tripadvisor or whatever to let people know. That is power that we have as consumers. That’s a great story.
Reaction to the Johny Cassidy interview
Charlene Ota is writing in. Good to hear from you, Charlene. She says, “Hi, Jonathan, always appreciate your podcast.” Thank you. “I have found your interview with Johnny Cassidy particularly interesting. Seems like the BBC has several blind journalists. There was a story done by someone from the BBC recently about the Envision Glasses-” Yes, that was Gary O’Donoghue who did that, “-and there have been other stories in the past that I can’t think of at the moment, but maybe the BBC is a little more up-and-coming than we are in the US when it comes to hiring blind journalists.
I like to listen to the BBC because I often learn about things that happen here in the United States that don’t even get mentioned in our news. News coverage is oftentimes just more interesting and in-depth too. Probably the closest thing we have here is NPR.” Thanks, Charlene. Yes, I think that’s right. Although of course with NPR, you have those sponsorship messages to sit through, which over the years seem to have become more and more like regular commercials, to be honest.
New York Times accessibility, and audio readings of newspapers
Here’s Linda McCloud writing in. She says, “Hi, Jonathan. I listened to your interview with BBC journalist Johnny Cassidy with interest. I am an avid reader of the news, and as my vision continues to deteriorate, I have found myself having to have the articles read to me more and more. I have on my phone the apps provided by the Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times, and my local paper, the San Jose Mercury News. We pay a monthly fee for all of the foregoing except for the Associated Press.
The most accessible app is provided by the Washington Post, which provides refreshingly large font, and more importantly, a specific option to listen to each article individually without interruption. Although it does not describe the photographs with the articles, it does introduce the journalists authoring the article, and even provides two voices to choose from. Also providing a listening option is my local paper. Although that option is less optimal as it simply reads the screen in one of the robotic voices.
The New York Times, however, really does not provide any accessibility with their app. Yes, I can use voiceover or do a two-finger swipe down to read the screen, but voiceover requires constant swiping and the two fingers swipe down reads every advertisement and lists the titles of what the NYT deems to be related articles that interrupt the flow of the articles. Even their larger font size is so small that I can barely read it with a magnifier, it really isn’t large at all. My ability to enjoy reading the New York Times is severely limited, even though we pay $17.99 per month for the subscription far and away the most expensive newspaper subscription we have.
When the NYT started pushing another subscription option, I finally called the New York Times customer service number and I asked if the expanded NYT subscription would be providing an audio option embedded within the app that allows readers to hear the articles. After checking with her supervisor, the customer services representative stated that the only thing that was available for people like me was a separate app unaffiliated with the New York Times called Audm. That’s spelled A-U-D-M, which purportedly provides a number of other newspapers into magazines and audio format.
After some questioning, it was disclosed that I would have to pay an additional $4.99 for this app. I was told that if I wanted to complain, I should email customer service and provide specific information about my account and which subscription I had. I have not yet complained further to the New York Times regarding their lack of an audio option on their app, partly because I do not know the legal obligations of newspapers to provide such a service.
I find it quite shocking that in this day and age, one of the most respected newspapers in the world do not provide such a basic feature to not just its blind readers, but millions of senior readers who would most appreciate such an option as their vision deteriorates as they get older. Johnny’s comment that news outlets “have come a long way” in providing accessibility does not seem to apply to the New York Times.
I would love to hear whether I am the only one who was frustrated with the New York Times in this regard. I also would love to know what other news apps your readers use that provide an audio option for its content. Finally, I would like to know if you or any of your readers are familiar with the Audm app, what its features are, and whether it is worth the extra $5 per month. Thank you, Jonathan, as always for your wonderful podcast,” says Linda.
Thank you for writing in. Linda. The first thing I would ask is whether you know about NFB-NEWSLINE in the United States, because if you are a voracious consumer of news, NFB-NEWSLINE may be a service that you would love to sign up to. It’s available to the blind community, and I think legal blindness is the criteria for entry. I’m sure someone from NFB will chime in and correct me if I’m wrong about that. The upshot of it is that it is a service that aggregates a very large number of newspapers, including all the big ones, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and write down to local newspapers, news sources from around the world and also some of the blindness-related publications.
Now, you can engage with NFB-NEWSLINE over the phone if you want to using a touch-tone telephone. The newspapers are not read by human voice, but they are read by very high-quality text-to-speech or there is an app that you can download. There is a skill for your Amazon device, which you can use as well, obviously, that’s also using text-to-speech, so you can engage with the NFB-NEWSLINE content in a raft of ways. It is free to register and free to use once you have an account on there, so you may already know about it, but if you don’t, I think you would love NFB-NEWSLINE. It’s been around since the mid-1990s and it is a brilliant service.
Now going back to the mainstream apps, I don’t mind obviously as a totally blind person using voiceover, but I completely take the point about how frustrating it can be when you’re reading an article and there’s this bevy of unrelated information. Well, they think it’s related, but all we really want to do is read the article. As a sighted person, you can quickly skim the stuff about related articles and ads and all those sorts of things. It’s much harder to do that when you’re using text-to-speech or Braille. If you are using the web, then you do have Reader Mode in Safari, which does cut out a lot of that stuff. In the apps, it can be more problematic.
I did take a look at the A-U-D-M app in the app store here in New Zealand. It is present and I downloaded it and when I did download, it turned into an app called StoryShots and I was able to register an account using my Apple ID and it wanted me to upgrade, but there’s also a free version, which I think has ads and a smaller selection of articles. I wasn’t actually able to get anything to play. I wasn’t able to find any articles. It looked like something on the screen was preventing voiceover from seeing everything. There was a fully accessible tab strip at the bottom, so it looks like they may know about voiceover, but I just couldn’t get it to work, had I persisted with it a bit longer, it might have.
If anyone has used this A-U-D-M app that now seems to be called StoryShots when you download and install it, please let us know how you are getting on with that. This just goes to show that accessibility is a very broad thing. You make a very important point, Linda, when you talk about the number of elderly people whose vision is deteriorating, who don’t really consider themselves part of the blind community but want to keep up with their news, and being able to do that is so important. In fact, when I worked a long time ago in the rehab field, in the blindness space, what I found was that a lot of elderly people finally came for service from a blindness organization when they got to the point that they couldn’t read their newspaper anymore. Access to the daily news is just so important for many people, and so it is critical that these apps and services are as accessible as possible.
We did have a while ago now in Mosen At Large a look at some news apps that did read audio and some were more accessible than others. Of course, this field is forever changing, so the situation then may not apply now. If anyone wants to comment on this, please feel free. I know Linda and others would be interested. In the meantime, Linda, if you’ve not checked out NFB-NEWSLINE, I would encourage you to do that. Nfbnewsline.org is the website, and I’m sure if you Google on NFB-NEWSLINE, you’ll be able to find out more information and the application process.
Pre-recorded Voice: Transcripts of Mosen At Large are brought to you by Pneuma Solutions, a global leader in accessible cloud technologies on the web at pneumasolutions.com. That’s P-N-E-U-M-A solutions.com.
Windows Defender versus a paid solution
Jonathan: Mercifully, things seem to have settled down on the ESET front, and I have reinstalled ESET on my ThinkPad. I figured, well, I’ve got the license, so I may as well install it. With the tips that Brian Hartgen provided, everything is going well again, so that is a relief.
Now, Lindy is writing in about this. She says, “To quote you-,” Oh, dear, it’s always scary when you get yourself quoted back at you. “-Windows Defender has kept me safe for many years. It’s light on the CPU. It doesn’t cost me anything. It’s built into the operating system.” Then Lindy says, “I had an email discussion with Brian Hartgen about this recently, and he doesn’t seem to agree. He recommended that I use another security protection because Windows Defender would not allow me to download a small program, which he suggests one install so that Leasey will be able to work seamlessly to correct spelling i.e. tinySpell.”
“I tried to download it, but Windows Defender asked me if I was sure of the website that it came from and when trying to approve it, I came across a visual confirmation dialogue. As I am totally blind, I opted for the audio prompt, but for the life of me, I couldn’t make out all five words.” I tell you what, those things with a hearing impairment are even worse. They are just awful.
She says, “I tried several versions, but it was impossible. My choice is now to forego Brian’s recommended software to work with Leasey or to use another paid-for security program, which I don’t want to do. I have used others before and never found them very fathomable, at a loss,” says, Lindy. Yes, I can appreciate the dilemma, Lindy, and I can also appreciate it from the other point of view. You can imagine that if you are supporting many customers and they’re all writing to you, taking up your time because Microsoft has done something daft that really will get on your nerves, wouldn’t it?
When your email box is full up, when you’re a small operator, when you’re writing the code and doing the support and doing it all and something that is fundamentally avoidable takes up a lot of support time. That is really frustrating. I do have some empathy because I’ve been in that position myself providing support and then also trying to create new product. There’s only one of you, and then a lot of your support traffic is avoidable and it’s being caused because Microsoft is being overzealous at best and just downright wrong at worst.
It’s frustrating and I think what’s happened is that we have moved on from a time when Windows Defender just wasn’t very good to a point where Windows Defender is actually quite good at what it does, but it also gives out a lot of false positives. Especially if you’re a smaller operator in the blind community, and you’ve got a niche product, and that niche product is not recognized because, in the context of Windows applications, it just doesn’t have the critical mass, it’s going to cause problems. I understand the issue.
You may possibly be able to get tinySpell from somewhere. tinySpell is pretty ubiquitous, and if you do a Google for it, it’s possible that you can find tinySpell on a site that isn’t going to make Windows Defender grumpy. I would use your favorite search engine of choice to see if you can track it down. In the end though, maybe it is necessary to get a better quality antivirus and security suite that is not going to flag things that are actually harmless.
Sony WM1000 XM5
“Hello, Jonathan,” says Andy Collins. “I’m wondering if you can help. I’m trying to decide whether to go for the Sony WM-XM5 headphones or the Apple AirPods Max instead. I have an iPhone 14 Pro and I’m a wearer of Oticon More hearing aids. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on the AirPods Max if you have tried them, and if in fact you’ve ever made use of the headphone accommodations feature under accessibility in iOS, which require the wearing of Apple headphones.
Headphone accommodations seem to let the user have the ability to adjust EQ settings. I’m assuming these EQ options are different to the ones found under the main music tab in general settings. Anyhow, what I do know is that you own the Sony headphones and I have heard you say that you got them to work well with your Oticon hearing aids. I was wondering what volume level you are able to achieve with the XM5s before feedback kicks in as I do like to crank up the volume when listening on headphones.
My other question is about the Sony app and its accessibility, especially when it comes to making EQ adjustments or fine-tuning frequency adjustments. I would very much like to be able to do this rather than have my audiologist continue to make adjustments for an accessible music program on the hearing aids. Many thanks for all the assistance you give.”
Andy, I did not try the AirPods because I concluded that a lot of people have had to return them. There was ongoing comment in the tech press about issues with the cups and leakage and things, and it just seems to me that they were not as good a value for money as the XM5s. The Bose are in a similar market, and I think the order I would put them in is the XM5s and then the Bose, and then the AirPods. I just think they’re too pricey for what they do. Of course, if all you are going to do is listen to them with Apple products, there may be some attractions there and you’ve identified one of them, which is the accommodations.
I have found that the app is maybe on the quirky side, but usable and I have been able to make all kinds of adjustments with the app. I had my audiologist set up a music program on my Oticon OPN S1, which is a model behind the ones that you are using. That is pretty linear. When I’m wearing the headphones, the cups cover or embrace, if you will, the hearing aids, even though they are BTE.
What I find it’s necessary to do is to take the music program down from its default by about three clicks. There’s still plenty of volume on the headphones so you can really crank it up and enjoy it, but I find that by doing that, I’m not getting any feedback. This is such a variable thing because the way that your hearing aids are configured, your particular hearing loss may mean that you’ve got more high frequencies compensated for, and that could affect how much feedback you get.
I think that if you are a hearing aid wearer, it’s a big gamble to just buy these without trying them. This is one occasion where I would recommend going into a store and putting them on and playing music and seeing what effect you get with your particular hearing aids configured for your particular hearing loss. You may find that of those three products, the AirPods Max, the Sony, and the Bose, that one just sounds more natural or gives less feedback than another.
I’d try them myself and see which one works for you, but I’ve got no complaints about these headphones, the Sony ones. I haven’t owned a pair of noise-canceling headphones since way back in the days of Bose QuietComfort II. Man, they’ve really come a long way. It was very pleasant having them on in the plane and the degree of noise that they were canceling out.
Staying straight while crossing a street
Pawel is in touch. He says, “Hello, Jonathan, and dear listeners of the podcast, warm greetings from cold and rainy Poland. I have been following the Mosen At Large podcast for a while, listening to each episode, but it is only now that I found something I might be able to contribute to the show.” Well, welcome. It’s great to have you contributing.
“In the episode, I believe 201, a listener from Milan called Thomas had asked about strategies that help blind travelers maintain a straight line when walking. I guess there might be different methods to achieve that, but the first that came to my mind is a device that I own that is manufactured and immediately used in Germany. It is called FeelSpace naviBelt. You can find out more under the following link. That link is feelspace.de/en. That’ll take you straight to the English version. Feelspace.de/en. It is a belt worn around the waist secured with a velcro strap equipped with 16 vibrating motors similar to those of a mobile phone.
In essence, the device is a compass and it indicates only by vibrating the respective module according to our current location. In other words, wherever we feel the vibration there is the north. Another mode of this device, however, allows us to specify our current bearing as our goal so that when crossing the road, for example, we can hold on to that direction and immediately notice when we go astray. I guess this is what Thomas meant and it may be a great help not only to those who are making their first steps in the area of independent mobility but also to seasoned travelers and those proficient with their mobility skills.
A further feature, which I personally use the most is the ability to pair the device with our smartphone through a dedicated app for both iOS and Android and to plan a whole route where our phone acts as a source for the GPS data and the belt indicates the general direction towards our target or the nearest turn. This way it is possible to put the phone back in our pocket and complete the navigation by following the vibration of the belt only occasionally checking where our next point is.
I have been using the naviBelt for two years now and in 99% of cases, it led me to where I needed to be. Since Thomas lives in Europe, it will make it easier for him to try out the device. The company offers a try-before-you-buy service and the only thing that needs to be paid are the shipping fees. The staff at FeelSpace provide an excellent service, are always there to answer any questions or even book longer support sessions if need be, which is great. As with the price tag of €2,300, it is not an investment one enters lightly.
Should any of the listeners be interested to learn more, I am sure the company employees will be more than happy to answer any queries and so am I within my capacity as a user. Thank you for all that you do, bringing the latest news and the variety of opinions regarding different topics concerning life with blindness and keep up the good work. I look forward to future episodes and wish you a great week.”
What an interesting contraption that is. I don’t think I’ve heard of that. Thank you very much for emailing in and I hope that we’ll hear from you regularly. If anyone else has tried this FeelSpace product and wants to comment on it, I’d be really interested in feedback on it.
Singers: Jonathan Mosen, Mosen At Large podcast.
Navigating by sentence in JAWS
Jonathan: Howard has written in and says, “For the person having trouble navigating by sentence in JAWS Freedom Scientific changed the keystrokes assigned to the next sentence and previous sentence command in version 2022. The changes are documented on the what’s new page in the help file for JAWS 2022 as follows, changes to sentence navigation keystrokes in desktop layout. When using the JAWS desktop keyboard layout, you can now press Alt Numpad plus or Alt Numpad minus to read the next or prior sentence in a document. This allows Alt plus up or Alt plus down arrow previously used for sentence navigation to work as intended by specific applications.
For instance, using Alt plus up or Alt plus down arrow in Teams moves between open chats. The command to read the current sentence. Alt plus Numpad 5 is still the same. These new keystrokes work well for me-,” says Howard, “-give them a try.” Genius Howard, thank you very much for sending that in. That does indeed work. Peachy, peachy, and as I say, it’s not a command that I personally use a lot, but I hope that helps the listener who was asking about it.
Question about Overcast
Lisa: Hello, Jonathan, Lisa here. I am a longtime listener to your podcast. First-time caller. I’m a bit shy so it took me a bit to get up my nerve. Plus I have a question I hope you can help me with, so that helped me get up the nerve to call in. Anyways I really enjoy your podcast, very informative. Thank you for all that you do and putting that together and I learned a lot from it, so I definitely appreciate it. I’m calling from the United States by the way.
My question is about the Overcast app. I know you’ve used that in the past I believe, maybe if you don’t know some of your listeners may. I am signed into my Overcast app on my iPhone 11 Pro, which I used quite a bit. I got a new iPad mini 6 and I tried to sign in on that because I wanted to start listing in that and I can’t sign in. It keeps telling me my password’s wrong and I know it’s not, but it won’t let me sign in. I’m trying to change the password and I’m not having any luck finding where to do that. I’d like to change it here on my iPhone and then I can log in on the iPad and have it both on the iPhone and iPad and do most of my listening on the iPad. Hoping you could tell me or one of your listeners could tell me how to change my password in the Overcast app.
Jonathan: You got through it. Good on you Lisa. Thank you for contributing for the first time and hopefully once you’ve done it once it’s easy, isn’t it? Yes, wasn’t that bad and it was good to hear you. I think I have an answer for you. If you go into the settings of Overcast, you will find a button there called sync and if you have created an account in the past with Overcast that required a username and password, there will be a change password button right there under sync. If you double-tap that, you should be able to set a new password. If for some reason that doesn’t work, what I would suggest you do is on the iPad where you’re trying to log in, if you choose the forgot my password option, it will send you an email with a link to reset your password. That’s the second way that you could try. If the first way doesn’t work, hope that helps.
The closure we seek
I’m sure you were paying riveted attention to Mosen At Large 205, in which case you will recall the email that we got from Adi in India and he recounted a real-world example of the damage that the voiceover bug relating to focus and certain lists can do. In this case, he was talking about calling the wrong people in his list of recent contacts at a time when he was with a woman and she basically thought he was incompetent and it was all his phone’s fault. I said we need closure. Are you still talking to this woman? How did it go? I’m curious.
It’s like that ABBA song Don’t Shut Me Down, which I love on their comeback album Voyage, but Bonnie and I spend a lot of time endlessly speculating. Did he let her back into his life? Did he slam the door? Bonnie thinks what happened is that there’s a woman who comes out of the bedroom where she’s getting dressed or something and says, who is this woman? She gets sent away with a flea in her ear. Maybe I’ll get the chance to ask Bjorn what he thinks happened at some point. Anyway, this one’s much easier to get closure on this issue of Adi’s because we’ve heard from him again and he says, “Hi, mate. In short, the chapter with Nakita is closed.”
Jonathan: “Yes, she was put off with the recent calls issue bug in iOS, but that was not at all the reason for us not meeting again. We did chat a few times post our date at the cafe and we’re planning to catch up again. However, she is looking for someone very affluent, someone who has a permanent cook driver dot dot dot. In short, someone at a CEO level, [laughs] oh, dear, we did enjoy our conversations and both of us love the cafe, but I am not the CEO, mate.” Well, I’m sorry to hear that. Believe me, it can be stressful, Adi, so you might be better off. There are plenty more fish in the sea as my mum used to tell me.
Pre-recorded Voice: I love to hear from you. If you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down or an audio attachment to Jonathan, J-O-N-A-T-H-A-N@mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States, 864-606-6736.
Mosen At Large podcast.
[01:58:16] [END OF AUDIO]